By Clare Maxwell
The first round of GISA spring elections debate began on Monday evening, 19/04, as the candidates for the positions of the President of the Professional Development Committee (PDC) and the GISA Events Coordinator presented their platforms and answered questions from the student body. Alison Eddy, the current GISA Administrative Director, moderated the discussion.
The event began with a statement from outgoing PDC President Shubhangi Priya, who clarified concerns over the PDC elections process, which is currently only available to PDC members. Shubhangi noted that this procedure is in accordance with the PDC bylaws, however changes to the voting procedures would be discussed at the upcoming GISA General Assembly.
Alexandre Maaza, a first year MIA student expressed his desire to support other students in their career building process. Alexandre focused on his ongoing work building platforms for greater discussion between students, professionals, and the broader International Geneva community, such as the What’s the Tea with PDC podcast, and the Youth Thinking Ahead forum. As PDC president, he expressed the intent to grow the committee in both size and diversity, build a practical skills program, and create a leadership award program to formally recognize students extracurricular skills.
Aravind Ganapathi, a first year MDev student, noted his history as the PDC Communication Coordinator, and his work increasing PDC’s social media presence, coordinating events, and opening up platforms for students to discuss their visions and goals in professional life. He also announced the priority of creating placement drives, an on-campus selection procedure for internship and short-term employment, as well as reaching out to organizations outside of Geneva, thus connecting students with professional development opportunities around the world.
Mariana Mendez, first year MIA student, focused on her perspective in supporting students with career aspirations in non-profits and the private sector, as well as those choosing academic career paths, and the need to support non-EU students as well as women, who face greater challenges when seeking employment. She focused on counseling students who suffer from “imposter syndrome” and creating new networking and external recruitment opportunities for students, with the hope of moving towards guaranteed employment for all IHEID graduates.
Aravind was asked to elaborate further on creating placement drives, which he clarified means a concentrated effort to invite organizations to have a more direct recruitment process with IHEID students, depending on their fields. Mariana also responded to questioning about her professional experience, and noted that creating professional networks was a skill she acquired through her own work experience.
Shubhangi asked each candidate what they would improve from their first year as members of the PDC. Alexandre focused on the challenge of transitioning from holding predominantly digital events to an in-person or hybrid model. Aravind suggested having a greater variety of events, and building students resilience in an increasingly complicated and competitive job market. Mariana expressed the hope to have more events in partnership with external organizations, and consolidating events between on-campus initiatives and offices.
The candidates were also asked about their positions on how to best support women, students of color, and LGBTQ students in their career development. Aravind noted that there is an ongoing effort to connect with LGBTQ alumni, and his own desire to connect more closely with initiatives such as QISA to support students beyond networking. Mariana addressed the need for women to form better methods for mutual support in the workplace, and greater awareness and understanding of how some groups are treated. Alexandre affirmed the need to collaborate with initiatives that already support marginalized students, such as QISA, and use PDC’s communication platforms to raise these questions and propose new strategies for inclusion.
The next set of questions centered on the development of technical and databasing skills, and the ways that PDC could expand their influence and coordination with the IHEID alumni and career services offices. Alexandre mentioned his own personal experience working with data accessibility, and the PDC’s existing relationships with alumni and career services. He also focused on the need to work with the limitations of small offices in the institute, and mentioned that the student-run PDC has already taken on a heavy workload to balance out the limitations of the university. Aravind noted that the PDC already has coordinators to work with different offices, and that he hopes to create a role for regional coordinators to help students find opportunities around the world. Mariana expressed her intention to create a more horizontal organization system in PDC to empower non-board members of the committee to create events. Aravind noted that data and innovation are key in almost all areas, and expressed the intent to explore new skills building processes. Mariana shared excitement about data use and the growth of artificial intelligence in the IR and development world.
The debate moved to the role of GISA Events Coordinator.
Arveen Sodhi, a First year MDEV, focused on a three pronged approach to improve event promotion, event diversity, and coordination and logistics. She emphasized her participation in a variety of GISA initiatives, ranging from regional initiatives to advocacy groups to communications. She proposed events promotion could be enabled through the creation of a live calendar, and using the Pocket IHEID app to inform students of events. She also suggested archiving videos of events through the GISA youtube channel, and emphasized the need to make events more inclusive to special needs community members. She also hoped to hold large social events every semester, as one strategy towards breaking down barriers between students in different disciplines, or to bridge the gap between remote and in-person students. She also hoped to document the events planning process, and create planning manuals and clarify COVID guidelines. Finally, she committed to advocating for decolonization and better mental health care as a member of the GISA board.
Bushra Asgher, a first year IRPS student, spoke about the role of event planning as a cornerstone of community building, and spoke about her history of planning formal and informal events. She wanted to focus on building bridges between the student community and international Geneva , enabling remote students to connect with on-campus life, and improving the range of activities to include more social events, outdoor activities, and activism.
Nicolle Renion, a first year MDev student, emphasized a holistic approach to events planning through her focusing on partnerships, online engagement, strengthening inter-initiative efforts, expanding the range and scope of events, and strengthening the relationship between student groups and the formal organs of the institute. She focused on the role of events as an avenue to community building and the empowerment of students. To such ends, she proposed more regular wine and coffee chats for students to relax and build relationships, and the importance of putting art and community building at the heart of the events platform, rather than just academic interests.
Bushra was asked to elaborate on her strategy for connecting students with local organizations in Geneva, and how to create more outdoors activities. She responded by saying that there are many opportunities that already exist to build community in Geneva, such as connecting with the University of Geneva and local advocacy movements. She noted that outdoor activities could be an effective way to build community, whether classes are online or hybrid.
Nicolle was questioned over her strategy to improve participation in events. She noted that having greater access to information about events and schedules, both on and off campus would help students to connect.
Outgoing Events Coordinator Romina Pezzot asked all the candidates what event they would hope to coordinate in order to build community between students in different academic disciplines, and build community despite the hybrid model. Arveen hoped to create a safe-space discussion event where students could unwind, destress, and have the chance to meet with and talk to others who are outside their usual circle. Bushra emphasized the need to have a food related event, such as a cooking night where remote students could be sent ingredients, or those in quarantine could have ingredients delivered, but still be able to cook and eat together through a digital interface. Nicolle talked about wine and coffee chats, in combination with an arts-based event such as painting or sharing poetry, to help students relax and shift their focus during the upcoming month of transitions.
The candidates were also asked about their intention to create collaborations, how they would streamline events while supporting initiative’s autonomy, and how they planned to manage the workload. Nicolle affirmed her own ability to manage the workload, and suggested a collaborative communication platform to improve event coordination. Bushra emphasized her ability to balance both coursework and extracurriculars, and her hope to collaborate more with other student leaders. Arveen noted her ongoing experience in managing responsibilities in multiple initiatives and her role as coordinator for the Environmental Committee’s Sustainability Week.
When asked about how the Events Coordinator could strengthen relationships with the institute, Bushra answered that she would prioritize the needs of students over the institution, but wanted to build relationships with the Gender Center and other academic bodies in order to build more continuity between the institute and the student body. Arveen noted her platform focused on connecting student initiatives with the IHEID events department through weekly themes and bringing research centers into the planning process for events.
Finally, candidates were asked how they could have a lasting impact through a year-long position. Arveen noted the importance of documentation, and facilitating the relationship between incoming and outgoing coordinators and various partners. Nicolle focused on intentionality and clarifying the deeper purpose driving events, in order to make them more meaningful and relevant to the student body.
The debates for President, Vice President for Masters Programs, and Treasurer will take place on Tuesday, 20/04 at 18:15. Voting will take place online from Wednesday, 21 April at 12h00 to Thursday, 22 April 2021 at 13h00, through a link sent to your institutional email.